Until the End of Time Part 1, Chapter 6
The Darkest Hour
By Demon-Fighter Ash
August, 1005 AD
It should have been raining, Lucca thought bitterly to herself.
She looked around at the crowds of villagers standing in the waning sunlight, vermilion and golden leaves tumbling lightly through the air as the chancellor stood behind the stone markers. Two coffins hung over the twin graves as he read from a book, his face as lost and grief-filled as the crowd he'd meant to console.
"Every night will have a day," he read softly, "even forever must come to an end..."
She shook her head and clenched her fists, staring up through the hanging canopy of dried leaves into the warm yellow sunlight, silently cursing the sun for showing its face today. She looked back around at the rest of the crowd and the chancellor, who'd asked for people to tell their memories of Crono. The village had been mostly burnt to the ground, the castle destroyed--the battle had ended quickly after the death of the knight-captain and the royal couple. Even this funeral had been held in secret, in a small grove behind the ruins of the cathedral.
Magus glared around at the crowd and he suddenly looked over his shoulder.
"What is it," she asked in a monotone, barely even hearing her own words.
"This is pointless," he answered in an annoyed whisper and she suddenly felt a flash of anger toward him.
"This is their funeral," she whispered back, "this is the only chance we'll get to say goodbye!"
"We're not saying goodbye to them," he hissed back, "they're already gone! It's too late for good-byes, too late for regrets and apologies--they'll never hear them! This whole ritual is just a comforting lie!"
"How dare you," she whispered furiously at him.
"I have more important things to do," he said suddenly, and turned around, slipping through the crowd and vanishing into the forest as the two white caskets slowly began to lower into the ground. The royal band played a soft melancholy elegy, the harp-strings and light bells filling the chirping forest, and Lucca shot the wizard a quick hateful glare before turning back to look through a blur of tears at the single stone marker.
KING CRONO and QUEEN NADIA
984 AD - 1005 AD and 985 AD - 1005 AD
"HISTORY GRIEVES HER BELOVED CHILDREN"
* * *
"Halt," Lieutenant Gerad called out into the shadowy forest, "identify yourself."
The lieutenant had been prepared for a vagabond, or a gang of thieves, or perhaps even one of Guardia's famous walking mushrooms to come stumbling out of the woods onto the narrow worn-out path. He had expected to turn back to the small group of soldiers behind him and to casually, almost thoughtlessly, give the order to open fire on the intruder. He had expected to give a bored nod as the intruder fell to the ground and then to order them to lift the wagon containing the treasure of Guardia again, to continue their journey through the forests of Truce until they met a platoon of Porre troops on the other side. He had expected to order the forest burnt to the ground once he and his men had made it through; it made strategic sense and he hated the ancient, gnarled trees.
Out of all the things he had expected, none of them included a pale figure draped in a royal purple cloak to glide out of the shadows, a scythe slung across his shoulder and thin red lips curled back to reveal fangs. It turned its head toward them and blood-red eyes that seemed to glow from beneath the shadows fell upon him.
"I said," he heard himself stammer, "identify yourself!"
"You took something that's not yours," a low raspy voice growled, a voice that seemed to emerge from the depths of the forest, as though the dried leaves and hollowed-out trees were whispering all around them. He looked back and realized with a shudder that the pale creature--he didn't dare called it human--had spoken and that the full weight of its crimson eyes had turned directly toward him, ignoring the company of soldiers behind him.
Gerad looked away from the creature's hate-filled face and glanced down at its feet, at the dried maple leaves blowing around in small whirlwinds and the thick leather boots instead, at the pool of shadows rustling beneath its dangling feet. His heart suddenly froze into ice as he realized that its feet didn't touch the ground.
"What are you," he managed to choke through his clenched throat, staring at the hovering apparition.
"A prince among wizards," the thing snarled in a low hissing voice, "and a king among demons. But then Porre prides itself on the slaughter of kings, doesn't it? Perhaps you'd like to try your luck on one more..."
"Open fire," the lieutenant muttered, backing away toward the wagon and the six young soldiers standing open-mouthed behind him. He glanced back at them and closed his eyes, trying to make himself sound firm.
"I said open fire!"
Smoke and white burning sparks filled his nostrils as all six men aimed their rifles and began firing into the middle of the path, at the fluttering, hovering wraith that had appeared before them. The lieutenant stared down the trail but the figure had vanished behind the billowing clouds of acrid smoke. He silently raised one hand and the soldiers lowered their rifles, leaving the forest immersed in a rolling fog of gunsmoke.
The nostril-burning smoke drifted away and the lieutenant stared at the trail.
The figure had vanished.
Maybe it had never been there. Maybe he had imagined some kind of wrathful ghost from the forests of Guardia stalking him, waiting to avenge the death of...the elimination of Porre's enemies. Maybe his men hadn't seen anything. That had to be it--why else had they hesitated when he told them to fire?
Of course, they'd simply opened fire at the empty trail because he ordered them to do so; it spoke of their loyalty that they obeyed him even when his orders must have seemed like lunacy. Besides, he remembered stories about a wizard with pale skin and red eyes that haunted the woods of Guardia.
He must have imagined it out of exhaustion. As soon as they returned to Porre he'd write a commendation for his men and request some personal leave. The war had left him shell-shocked, seeing ghostly wizards in every shadow and ordering troops to fire at thin air. He smiled a little in relief.
Something grabbed his neck and lifted him into the air, throwing him backwards. His head slammed into a tree and he lifted himself up with a groan. His eyes blurred with pain and he saw through a cloud of tears his men and a blotch of purple and white. He shook his head and barked one last order, one that didn't need to be said.
"OPEN FIRE! KILL IT!!"
He knew they must have been trying to shoot; the cracks of gunfire echoed all around him and he smelled the bitter smoke and saw flashes of white bursting from the trail. But then he heard the cracks of the rifles dying away one after another and as he staggered blindly toward the wagon, eyes still glazed and blurred, he winced at the new sounds filling the otherwise silent forest.
A young man screaming, maybe begging--and then a bone snapping in two. Footsteps running and then a whirl as though a gale had swept through the trees; but the commander knew this gale had red staring eyes. A soft tearing sound as a blade ripped through...he tried not to think about it. Then silence, and a blur of red and brown.
"Retreat," he groaned uselessly into the rustling stillness of the forest, "retreat."
His vision had cleared and he stumbled back onto the trail, to the wagon. He had expected to see the horror of the massacre sprawled across the wagon, the dead eyes of his men staring accusingly at him.
The wagon sat bare and dry in the middle of the empty trail, red and brown autumn leaves everywhere.
Then something grabbed his chin and lifted him into the air. He rolled his eyes down and saw the sneering pale face below him, a long purple cloak fluttering over its shoulders as it snarled at him, its fangs jutting behind its lips like daggers. The thing held him in the air with its right arm, the gleaming scythe hoisted in its other hand.
"Just take it," Lieutenant Gerad gasped, "take whatever you want."
"And let you live," the creature asked, red eyes locked into his own, a cold burning hatred filling them, "did you give Truce that chance? Did you ask them to give you their belongings in exchange for their lives, like thieves? Or did you burn their houses, slaughter their children, and call it the spoils of war when you were done?"
"You're Magus," he choked out as the wizard lifted him up, "you're the ghost of Magus."
The glaring wizard suddenly cocked his head to the side with a faint icy smile, as if secretly amused by the commander's words. Then his face hardened and he stared back into the commander's eyes, a howling wind blowing through the branches and grass, a sweeping wailing blast of cold dead air twisting around them both.
"Do you hear that? You're a man of death, so you must recognize that sound."
Lieutenant Gerad knew exactly what it was, and he closed his eyes tight as the scythe flew downward.
* * *
Lucca sighed as she looked over the fields and forests, through the still-burning remains of Truce for some sign of him. She shook her head, enraged at his stubborn arrogance, and slammed the front door of her house, stepping carefully around the cables and wires of her inventions as she flipped on the living room light.
She nearly screamed at the sight of the half-conscious purple-cloaked figure lying on her couch.
"Oh, it's you," she barked angrily, eyes clouded with fury, "I should have known you'd show up for dinner and a bed, you're like a stray dog! You couldn't even bother to stay at the funeral, you couldn't even pretend to care about them! Crono really thought you'd changed, but you're," her voice suddenly dropped, "you're bleeding..."
"It's just blood," he groaned slightly, "it proves that I still live."
She hopped over a metal transceiver-coil on the floor and knelt beside him as he lay on the couch, his eyes closed tight against the overhead lamp, and studied the wounds scattered over his shoulders and chest. Small holes had been dug into his tunic and skin, metal gleaming within them...almost like...
"You've been shot," she whispered, suddenly understanding. She took a small step back as he lifted up on his hands, arms propped up behind him as he sat upright and looked toward her. He suddenly winced again and she noticed the edge of his palms charred deep red, as if he'd pressed them against a skillet.
"Your hands," she asked, bewildered, "where did you go, Janus?"
"The sword," he answered with a groan as he shifted his weight across his blistered palms, "Melchior's dreams don't agree with me. They didn't understand what I was doing."
"Melchior's dreams," Lucca said to herself in confusion and sudden horror, "Magus, what have you done?"
"Go look in your room," Magus groaned irritably, "your answer's in there."
She stood up, puzzled by the anger and hurt in his voice, then climbed the stairs and opened the door to her bedroom She hesitated for a moment before turning on the light, imagining unspeakable sight waiting in her room, some hideous answer to the terrible mystery of what Magus had done.
She reluctantly flipped the switch.
A sword lay on the bed. A broad heavy sword with runes inscribed along one side...
"The Masamune," she said softly, turning back to the stairs, "but Porre stole it."
"I couldn't let them take it," Magus said, almost to himself, as he folded his knees beneath him to sit upright against the couch, "after all they did, after all they took, I couldn't let them have that too..."
"You took it back from them," she said in a low, amazed tone as she climbed down the stairs, "you left the funeral because you had to stop them before they reached Porre. And they shot you..."
"It doesn't matter," he said with a glare as he looked over her shoulder at the sword, "the Masamune is back and they'll never touch it again."
"But your hands," Lucca asked, and then suddenly drew a sharp breath as she quickly realized what must have happened, "the Masamune...it burnt you when you tried to carry it, didn't it?"
"They didn't understand," he answered, and after a moment's confusion she realized he must have meant Masa and Mune, "and I didn't have time to summon and explain it to them. They thought I was still...that I was still Magus," and she noticed that he'd fallen back on the couch. She stepped into the downstairs bathroom and searched the cabinet: bandages, antibiotics, and tweezers. This would be a long night, she thought to herself, for him even more than her. She wondered if she had any ether, but realized that he wouldn't want to use it even if she did.
She walked back over to the couch and found him already passed out--it must have been worse than he'd told her. She glanced upstairs and felt a little relieved that Kid was staying with Elaine and Fritz for the night, that she wouldn't have to see any of this. She lifted his hands up and winced as she saw his palms, scorched brown in the middle and fading to dark red burns across his fingers, imagining what he must've gone through to carry it back to her house. She grabbed the tweezers and bandages and began plucking out each of the bullets, making herself think of his unconscious bullet-shattered body as just another machine that needed to be fixed.
A sudden swell of affection broke through her focused intellectual attention and she reached her hand up to softly stroke his face as he twitched in his sleep at the touch of rubbing alcohol.
"Crono was right about you," she whispered as she gave the unconscious man a gentle kiss and went back to bandaging his chest and shoulders, "thank you, Janus."
Part 2, Chapter 1